Late to the Game

November 8, 2016

The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation has learned that school sports are in competition versus non-school youth sports, not only programmatically but also and more fundamentally, philosophically. School sports sees child development quite differently and has as its mission developing the whole child.

Non-school youth sports business interests have convinced consumers (that’s parents) that early and intense specialization with private lessons and personal trainers, and lots of travel and tournaments is necessary for a child’s athletic interests and ultimate happiness. That is sometimes true ... once in a very great while.

What is much more often true is that specialization in a sport that is too early and too intense stunts a young person’s physical literacy, which often leads to less well-rounded athletic ability, a more sedentary lifestyle and poorer health in later life.

The theme of the Task Force recommendations to the MHSAA so far is that we have to reach youth and their parents earlier in life if we hope to compete for their hearts and minds.

When 80 percent of youth drop out of organized sports by the age of 13 – usually because they have been left out or become burned out – we’ve missed the kickoff if we start talking to them in 9th grade about the benefits of multi-sport participation and the school sport experience. In fact, the game is more than half over by then and our messages fall on deaf ears. We are absolutely correct with our message but appear out of step and out of touch to those who have only heard the sports specialization speech from youth coaches and their commercial interests.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.